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SOCIAL LIFE

‘I’m alone’: How I’m finding friends in Italy during the pandemic

If you thought bureaucracy was the toughest part of moving to Italy, there's another potentially trickier part of building a life here - making friends as an adult. Reporter Karli Drinkwater shares how she's putting herself out there to find friendships after months of restrictions.

'I'm alone': How I'm finding friends in Italy during the pandemic
Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash

Breaking into a new social circle is tough pretty much anywhere in the world once you get beyond university exchanges and gap years.

In your 30s, people are settled and busy with their own families, established friendships and demanding jobs. Throw in a new culture and language and there’s an extra challenge you have to face.

But face it you must if you’re going to make the most out of life in Italy and especially as, for me it seems, I’m in it for the long haul as I’m marrying an Italian.

READ ALSO: ‘We’re exhausted’: What it’s like planning a wedding in Italy during the pandemic

Finding your own friends and people you can call on is as important as registering with your local town hall and all the other seemingly endless bits of bureaucracy you need to do to live in Italy.

The pandemic has been a test of mental and emotional strength and my wellbeing has undoubtedly taken a hit after months of restrictions, unable to either leave the apartment or not stray very far from it.

And working from home, or ‘Smart Working‘ as the Italians dub it, has only increased my isolation further.

READ ALSO: Not just teaching: The jobs you can do in Italy without speaking Italian

Once Italy opened up again for the summer season, I was ready to get out and live again. But then I felt blocked when the realisation dawned on me: I’m alone. What friends can I call on to go out for a drink or a wander?

So, I was determined to take charge of my social life and finally take the chance to create my own support network.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I’m usually outgoing and sociable – and have lived in many places around the world, normally making friends fairly easily.

But after months of being cooped up, I recognised I needed to push myself back out into the world before I became a complete grouch.

I’d got used to this new life of relative solitude, unable to travel to see friends and family, but I knew it was neither healthy nor sustainable for me.

READ ALSO: ‘I’m going crazy’: Why international residents in Europe will travel this summer despite Covid

Another problem was I had no established social life in Italy before. I arrived six months before the pandemic hit and so I’d only just about managed to get going with a job and start receiving invitations to aperitivo nights or a passeggiata.

But with various lockdowns after almost two years here, I’ve been in stasis and I have to start from square one again.

I scoured Facebook for meet-up groups around Bologna, as it’s the bigger of my two closest cities.

That’s another problem you might face if you move to Italy. For whatever reason, by accident or design, you might live in the countryside, which narrows your options even further.

So you have to accept you’ll need to put a bit of extra effort in to see new faces and make connections.

Turns out there are plenty of online groups for meeting new people in my nearest city and, after months of suspended activities, it seems people are coming out their shell again to mingle and enjoy Italy once more.

Friends wanted for frolicking in sunflowers. Photo by Antonino Visalli on Unsplash

I clicked ‘going’ on a Facebook event I found for women in Bologna, called ‘Girl Gone International’. That’s it, once I’ve committed I don’t back out so it was my own insurance to force myself to make the 40-minute journey after work.

We met in the park in the centre of the city for a chat. It was really informal, relaxed and everyone was curious about each other.

The usual social dynamics of new people all together for the first time came into play and I did my usual fretting of whether I spoke too much, asked others too many questions or revealed too much too soon.

Everyone there was intelligent, had interesting jobs and stories of how they’d ended up in Bologna. I found out new restaurant recommendations from long-term residents and tips for hiking spots.

These are the gems you miss out on if you stay in your own bubble.

A few weeks passed in between and I wasn’t very proactive in asking people if they wanted to meet up. Between work, planning a wedding and buying a house, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was too hot and tired.

Another opportunity cropped up though, and I was back in the city on a Friday night, meeting more of the group and getting to know them better over a glass of wine and a plate of Italian bread snacks called taralli.

Turns out I just might have found people I have lots in common with. They love the outdoors, trying new food and do litter clean-ups.

Plastic-hating, nature-loving foodies? Jackpot.

Sometimes, just knowing there are people who are keen to meet up is all you need.

Making true friends takes investment and I expect it’ll be a while yet before I have that person in my life I can call anytime and be fully myself with. Politeness is tiring, after all.

But for now, I’m a little less alone and a bit more me. And after a fairly rocky start to my life in Italy, having something to look forward to, at last, is enough.

Member comments

  1. I can relate to this so hard. Moved to Genova a couple months before lockdown. Met approximately 4 people over the summer (last year), then moved to the middle of nowhere for the first half of this year. I’ll be back in a city starting next month, so this is the perfect motivation to get out and meet people!

    1. Erin I have been living in Genova off and on over the past 2 years and returning in September, if you’re back in the area look me up on FB if you’d like to connect!

  2. Thank you for writing about this topic Karli. I too relate 100% to this and feel slightly more challenged in that I am also in my early 40s, single and without work still so it’s been further limiting. I have found that going to language school has provided some solace but I hope things shift when I find work and have the opportunity to meet more locals. I’m glad things are getting better for you!

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For members

CLIMATE CRISIS

Hosepipe bans and pools: your questions answered on Italy’s drought restrictions

Italy is suffering the worst drought in decades, and water restrictions remain in place in many areas until the end of summer. We answer your questions about what this means for everyday life in Italy.

Hosepipe bans and pools: your questions answered on Italy’s drought restrictions

Since the middle of June this year, many parts of Italy have been on drought alert, and a ‘state of emergency’ was declared in July in five northern regions: Friuli-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lombardy, Piedmont and Veneto.

But what this means for people living in or visiting Italy depends on the rules set in each region and municipality, and these vary significantly from place to place.

READ ALSO: Italy’s risotto rice fields decimated by worst drought in decades

While some areas have restricted the use of drinking water, others have switched off city fountains or asked people not to fill up their swimming pools this summer.

If your local comune (town hall) has imposed water use restrictions, notices are usually sent out to residents and you should also be able to see the rules on your local comune’s website.

Here we answer some of the most commonly-asked questions about the water use restrictions in place:

Is there a hosepipe ban?

Hosepipe bans are common in the UK during drought periods, but Italian water restrictions work differently. There is no ban on using hosepipes in particular, but many areas have limited activities such as washing cars or watering the garden that you might normally use a hosepipe for.

For example, in the Veneto region, dozens of towns and comuni including Verona, Villorba and Montebelluna have imposed restrictions on the use of potable water for anything other than domestic and hygienic purposes.

READ ALSO: Historic drought resurfaces World War II bomb in Italy’s River Po

Check local restrictions in your area, but some authorities have specifically forbidden the use of water for watering plants, or only allow them to be watered in the evening.

These rules apply whether you are using a hosepipe, watering can or any other implement.

Man waters plant

Many towns and villages across the country have now banned residents from using water for non-domestic purposes, including watering plants and gardens. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Is Italy rationing tap water?

Not everywhere in the country. But in some areas, municipal authorities have placed restrictions on the supply of tap water as local supplies threaten to run dry.

This includes hundreds of towns and villages in Piedmont and Lombardy, as well as several comuni in Lunigiana, northern Tuscany.

Such a rule usually means supplies are restricted during the night only, typically between 10pm-7am, but if you have water use restrictions in place in your area check your comune‘s website for full details of what you’re allowed to do and when.

I have a well on my property, can I use water from the well to water the garden?

It’s not uncommon in rural areas for properties to have a well or similar that provides fresh but untreated water. Obviously you shouldn’t drink this as it may not be safe, but many people use it to water gardens.

Unless otherwise stated, water restrictions announced by local authorities for residents usually concern only acqua potabile (drinking water, or tap water) so you can continue to use water from the well.

Watch out for a mention of acqua di pozzo (well water). If your local restrictions mention acqua non trattata (untreated water) that includes all types of water, including water from your well.

Shut public fountain in Baveno, Milan

Many towns and cities in northern Italy, including Milan, have switched off their public fountains amid water shortages this summer. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Can I fill my swimming pool?

This depends on the level of drought restriction in place in your area, but most parts of Italy now have some restrictions on private swimming pools.

For example, in some parts of Varese you may need to get permission from the water company before filling your pool, while the comune of Florence has a complete ban in place.

And it may also depend on whether you use tap water or water from your own private well.

Tap water use restrictions only apply during the day in some cases: residents of Villorba, near Treviso, are not allowed to use potable water to water gardens, wash vehicles or fill up pools between 6am and 11pm.

In some areas, local municipal swimming pools may be closed.

The bans on filling pools do not appear to apply to businesses, including hotels and resorts, but it’s always best to check the rules with your local town hall.

Marina Piceno, 64, relaxes in a hot tub in her garden that uses water from her private well. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Can you really be fined for breaking the rules?

Yes. Fines again vary by local authority, but in parts of Veneto and Piedmont, for example, penalties for breaking the rules reportedly range from 25 to 500 euros.

How strictly the rules are enforced is hard to say. But if your area has water restrictions in place, it’s likely that filling the swimming pool, washing the car and watering your lawn will make you unpopular with neighbours who are following the rules – and this could be even more unpleasant than a fine.

What’s the official advice on saving water?

Even in areas where no official restrictions are in place, Italian authorities are asking everyone to make an effort to save water this summer. Guidelines released by government agency ENEA in July include the following advice:

  • Turn off taps, and don’t let them drip;
  • Limit the amount of tap water used on gardens – install containers to collect and store rainwater to use instead (some areas have more stringent measures in place on gardens)
  • Install water-saving equipment;
  • Take a shower instead of a bath;
  • Repair water leaks;
  • Don’t run your washing machine or dishwasher half empty.

We’re happy to answer questions from our members on any aspect of life in Italy. Get in touch at [email protected]

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